Two expats held hostage in botched home invasion

A bold daylight home invasion in Escazú got worse Monday when a neighbor notified police. The result was a five-hour hostage situation in which two U.S. citizens were at the mercy of four gunmen, some of them with criminal records.

The bandits finally surrendered around 4:30 p.m. and released the two hostages. One is Tom Sweeney, a long-time expat here, and a woman identified as an employee. Sweeney runs an online matchmaking service at that location.

Negotiators from the Judicial Investigating Organization finally broke the stalemate, and the home invaders allowed Sweeney and the unidentified woman to leave individually. They were escorted to safety by teams of tactical squad members holding shields. Each was led to an ambulance for a trip to Hospital San Juan de Dios.

Judicial police said that Sweeney had been beaten in the face by the intruders. The woman suffered a blow to a cheek. The injuries were not considered life-threatening.

Home invasions are a frequent event in Costa Rica, and crooks seem to be targeting older residents more. Sweeney was reported to be 71 by a Cruz Roja attendant. Despite the frequency, this crime, because of the time and the hostage situation, received running coverage on the area’s major television stations.

Police said the initial notification of the crime came in about 11:30 a.m. from a neighbor in the
Bello Horizonte section of Escazú. That brought Fuerza Pública and judicial police tactical squads to surround the home with Cruz Roja ambulances standing by. Eventually negotiators established contact with the hostage takers.

The home invaders arrived in a taxi that was parked in the driveway. Presumably they were going to leave that way until the police thwarted their plans.

The Fuerza Pública said that two of the men were Colombians and two were Costa Rican. Two had prior judicial encounters for crimes, and one had been convicted but was let out of the Puntarenas prison in a form of conditional release. He only had to report to the prison once a week.

Bello Horizonte is an upscale neighborhood that has been troubled with robberies, break-ins and other home invasions.

After the home invasion suspects were led to police transportation, officers searched the home for weapons and other possible suspects.

Sweeney runs Spanish Eyes Costa Rica, which is a matrimonial agency mostly for North American men and Latin women.

Late Saturday there was a home invasion in San Miguel de Escazú. The Judicial Investigating Organization said that two masked men entered the home and tied up a nurse who was attending an elderly couple there. The wife awoke about 1 a.m. Sunday to find the nurse tied up in the kitchen.

The couple appear to have slept through the crime.

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